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Powell: Elections Best Option for Iraq

  • Michael Bowman

Secretary of State Colin Powell says there are no viable alternatives to holding Iraqi national elections as scheduled on January 30. Mr. Powell responded to comments by a former U.S. official who questioned whether elections will contribute to long term stability in Iraq, as the Bush administration has argued.

Last week, former U.S. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft warned that, in his words, "The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have great potential for deepening the conflict." Mr. Scowcroft, who served in the administration of former-President George Bush, warned of a possible civil war in Iraq between majority-Shiite and minority-Sunni Muslims, and suggested that the United States' best course of action would be to hand over the Iraqi operation to NATO or the United Nations.

Speaking in Nairobi, Kenya Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged the risks and potential pitfalls of pressing ahead with elections in Iraq, including the specter of violence by insurgents. But he said those risks pale in comparison to the damage that would be done by postponing or canceling the vote. Mr. Powell spoke on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday.

"We all are concerned that this insurgency is going to continue," he said. "But the alternative cannot be to keep postponing elections, or not having elections. We need to give the Iraqi people this opportunity on January 30 to speak out for how they wish to be led."

Those words were echoed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on NBC's Meet the Press. Mr. Frist, a Republican ally of President Bush, urged faith in the democratic process - even in a country as divided as Iraq.

"Nobody knows what the outcome will be," he said. "But that freedom of being able to vote, of expression and having elected representatives, 275 people chosen by the Iraqi people, is a major step forward. It is the beginning, not the end of the process of democracy."

Far less upbeat about Iraq's upcoming democratic exercise was Democratic Senator Joe Biden, who spoke on CNN's Late Edition program. Mr. Biden suggested that holding elections in Iraq is the lesser of two bad choices.

"The elections are going to be much messier [than most people believe]. We are left with a bad choice of holding an election and a worse choice of not holding it," said Mr. Biden. "I think there is going to be the question of whether the Sunnis participate, and whether there is any legitimacy in the process if they do not."

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as former President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, said the Bush administration is looking at the elections in a different light than ordinary Iraqis. Mr. Brzezinski spoke on the CBS program Face the Nation.

"The elections are important to the administration, to the U.S., because if they are successful to some degree, they may legitimize, to some degree, what we [the coalition] have done," he explained. "So, legitimacy is important for us. In Iraq, the issue is stability. Will the elections contribute to greater political stability - or to the contrary?"

Mr. Brzezinski said he fears the elections will not help stabilize Iraq, but added that, after investing so much in leading Iraq to a democratic future, the United States cannot walk away from the vote, which is now less than three weeks away.